National Conference/Convention Report, Part II, by Mitch Pomerantz

Here is the second installment of my report to the ACB membership on Sunday evening of our 50th annual national conference and convention in July. As you will see, we do not rest on past accomplishments, but continue to champion full equality and greater access for all blind and visually impaired people.

As you have heard me say - no doubt ad nauseum - ACB is a grass-roots organization where you the membership determine the advocacy road we travel. As the result of several resolutions passed at the 2010 convention, Eric and Pratik have met with officials from Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Sprint. They have gone to company headquarters and established solid working relationships with all of them. These tech giants are beginning to consult with ACB to make their products and services fully accessible to persons who are blind or visually impaired. In fact, Google will be here later this week conducting focus groups on our use of technology. These valuable relationships are in the formative stages of development and are the direct result of the resolutions passed last year by you, the members of ACB.

But we will not rest upon our legislative laurels. During 2011 and beyond, ACB is embarking on three new legislative initiatives which will be every bit as challenging as our previous efforts.

The first initiative involves passage of H.R. 860, which was introduced in March by John B. Larson of Connecticut. This bipartisan legislation would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to promote charitable donations of qualified vehicles. Since enactment of more restrictive regulations six years ago, cash contributions to ACB and the more than 20 affiliates participating in the Vehicle Donation Program have plummeted significantly. Hence, passage of H.R. 860 is vital. Currently, H.R. 860 has well in excess of 80 co-sponsors, so the word is definitely getting out about how important this legislation is to us.

The second initiative concerns access to prescription drug labeling. If you need proof of the importance of this issue, let me relate something which I learned a little over a week ago. A longtime member of the California Council of the Blind fell in his shower, breaking ribs and puncturing a lung. The cause of his fall? Apparently that morning he'd mixed up his prescriptions and took one of them twice. Yes, he'll be OK; but is there any doubt why we must have prescription labels in accessible formats?

The effort is gaining serious Congressional attention and there is a strong chance that a bill with bipartisan support will be introduced this summer. We must see legislation passed making it mandatory for pharmacies to provide accessible prescription drug labeling. While Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian are making strides in this area through structured negotiations (as you will hear shortly), ACB believes that federal legislation is absolutely necessary to address this issue once and for all.

ACB's third initiative relates to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and its exclusion of coverage for low-vision aids as durable medical equipment (DME). Currently, CMS regulations state that all devices "irrespective of their size, form, or technological features that use one or more lenses to aid vision or provide magnification of images for impaired vision" are excluded from Medicare coverage based on the statutory "eyeglass" exclusion. In plain English, this means that while CMS will pay for devices to aid persons with physical disabilities, it will not pay for devices such as hand-held magnifiers, video monitors and other equipment which use lenses to allow blind and visually impaired people to remain independent. Interestingly, CMS will not pay for white canes either. If someone here has a cane with a lens, please let me see it. I'm dying of curiosity.

ACB is committed to amending this so-called lens exclusion. We are developing a coalition of agencies, vendors and organizations to join with ACB similar to the coalition effort which resulted in getting our telecommunications bill passed. We know that this effort will take time; but we will be around for as long as it takes to achieve victory.

Let me turn to one of the most successful and longstanding ACB activities. 2011 marks the 16th year of our partnership with Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian to promote access for blind and visually impaired persons through the process of structured negotiations. Unfortunately, neither Lainey nor Linda were able to be here this week, but they both send "wishes for a successful and fun conference and convention and congratulate ACB on 50 years of advancing the rights of people with visual impairments across the United States and the globe." They look forward to many more years of collaboration, friendship and landmark advancements in making information and technology accessible. Here is their summary of relevant activities since our 2010 convention.

ACB has signed a historic agreement with the American Cancer Society which will provide information in braille, large print, audio CD, MP3 format and accessible PDF. The ACS web site will also be updated to comply with accessibility standards.

Last August (2010), a lawsuit was filed on behalf of CCB and three California plaintiffs against JetBlue Airways for its inaccessible web site and kiosks which cannot be used by people who are blind and visually impaired. JetBlue refused to participate in structured negotiations and is currently asking the court to dismiss the case. A hearing in federal court is scheduled for July 22nd in San Francisco. (Note: In early August, the judge granted JetBlue's request to dismiss the case.)

You'll read the concluding portion of my report in the December issue.